Peas of the Same Pod: Evolution of Radio to Podcast

It is only recently that I have got into the habit of listening to podcast. As a kid, I used to have a little black box for a radio that used two medium sized batteries to play my favorite radio program (and not to forget, proper adjustment of the stainless steel antenna.) It was pure bliss during load-shedding days to have something to listen to while doing my homework, with a dim-lit candle on my study table. The same thing is with podcast now; minus the power cuts and the black radio box, obviously.

Podcast as an audio media created its ripples in the late 00’s, and has been making waves since.  Also known as netcast, podcast is a series of recordings that one uploads on to a digital media. In the era of social media and digital swirls, amidst the hypes of illustrated memes and trending videos of cats and dogs, podcast is something of a treat to the audience that listen. It is a medium through which one can put forth their ideas and stories in an intriguing way with uncustomary approach. Unlike radios, podcast doesn’t necessarily need to follow a protocol to get things done in a particular time frame and script, if any. Podcast is expansive when it comes to the types of programs it dispenses, ranging from political affairs to celebrity buzz.

It has been a slow ride for the Nepali audio media when it comes to discovering podcast as a medium to deliver informative and entertaining contents. With the FM scene still burgeoning with newer channels, the radio frequency extending further from 80 MHz up to 108 MHz, one can say that the frequency modulation is here to stay. Nevertheless, one cannot simply deny the reach of podcast even in this existing enterprise of radio channels and how it is blooming, not as a competition, but as a sister media

Sabeena Karki, a former radio jockey at one of the most popular radio stations of Nepal, has been in the audio media for more than a decade. What makes Sabeena do best at what she does, and loved by her listeners, is her limpid way of talking, and the amity that is reflected in her shows. Her journey from an RJ to a podcaster started from her own podcast that goes by the name ‘Sabcast’. She says that the reason behind choosing podcast over radio was for her to have freedom of expression and a sense of proprietorship.

“Of course, traditional radio has its own charm, but podcast is trendy and engages with the audience more than any other media. These days, one carries at least couple of GB worth of their best collection in the pocket. None waits for hours just to listen to their best songs. Same applies to news and information. Feeling of ownership and self-censorship has changed over the years; the only boss is the audience in podcast,” answers Sabeena when asked about her reason behind choosing podcast over radio.

Sabcast, with its popular show, Maya Bhanne Cheez Kasto Kasto, is recorded using Sabeena’s cell phone. “People recommend fancy recording devices, and I have a few, but nothing is as handy as a mobile.” Having worked in radio for fifteen years, she rejoices in her job in the audio media, and has made the best use of portable technologies. “How cameras and telephone communication have become precise yet powerful over the years says a lot for audio recording devices. One can simply just use their cell phones. No more fuss in that,” she says.

Talking more of podcasts by Nepali podcasters, ‘BojuBajai’ is the podcast channel that will win every bet as one of the most humorous and scintillating Nepali podcast channels, which emanates the voice of every feminist, or let’s say, Nepali feminist. Started just as a whim, Itisha Giri and Bhrikuti Rai had no plans of carrying on their one-time recording that they put online as a podcast. Their first episode went on by the name “Bear and Whores” that was recorded to address the abuse faced by women online. But, they were very pleasantly surprised by the response they received and decided to keep going. “We both love the medium for the flexibility it offers. Anyone with a decent phone recorder can create a podcast. It is the most liberating form of content creation, and you do not have to adhere to any external demands or guidelines.” They add, “We wanted to talk about things that interested us on a very personal level without having to worry about whether or not it is appropriate or acceptable in the ‘traditional’ sense.”

Itisha and Bhrikuti record their podcast over Skype from their ‘noisy’ apartments: one in Madrid, and the other in New York. Recording and editing is DIY for the Boju and Bajai. For the podcast contents, both Itisha and Bhrikuti spend a lot of time talking about potential themes, researching and working on the script, whereas most of the editing is done by Bhrikuti. “Podcasting is great because there are no time constraints as such. The process of shaping the content in itself is something that we really enjoy.”

But, is radio really evolving to podcast? “Not really,” say Itisha and Bhrikuti. “Podcasts can be about the strangest topics, appealing to a very niche audience, whereas radio has a much wider appeal. People will always tune in to the radio to listen to music or their favorite morning shows. Radio, to many people, is a part of their daily routine. Podcast is more like a hobby. People choose to subscribe to a podcast that interests them.”  On the contrary, Sabeena feels that it is all in the hand of internet access for podcast to come out as a potential audio media in Nepal. “Once internet becomes totally free or available to a majority of the population, I believe most of the radio programs will evolve as podcast. There will still be questions unanswered about whether radio programs catering traditional thoughts would fit the norms of podcast though.” reflects Sabeena.

However, the podcast industry, even if it is maturing and improving in quality of output and audience measurement, is still on its way of being shaped and settled. The growth in popularity of podcasts and the phenomenal increase in the number of podcasts in the last decade can be closely linked to increase in access to the internet around the world. “You don’t need capital or fancy equipment to create a podcast. All you need is an idea, a recorder, and a passion for the medium. There are free editing software available that are user-friendly and easy to use,” add the podcasters of BojuBajai. Podcast can somewhat be called as a part of a new media wave. However, more than a new wave, podcast is an excellent tool that can be used by anyone to communicate with others without any inhibitions, and it is here to stay. “There will always be someone out there who will connect with what you are trying to say.”